Public holidays in Germany and important dates in 2020
Last updated: 17 April 2020 / by Jack Harper
The following have been written assuming that it will be business as usual. However, due to COVID-19, there’s a good chance that many events and public gatherings may not be possible.
Germany is a country in which tradition and celebration go hand-in-hand. From the world-famous Oktoberfest to the historic Corpus Christi, German holidays are representative of a nation that is rich in religion, historic and perseverance.
Grab some steins and don your Bavarian hats as we go through the most important dates in the German calendar. Note that some of these holidays are national (N) while others are limited to specific regions (R).
January 1st: New Year’s Day (Neujahr) (N)
Following the News Year’s Eve merriments of Silvester, Germans join much of the rest of the world in celebrating the start of a new year.
The majority of businesses and other public places of work, including banks and post offices, are closed nationwide on New Year’s Day. Employees are given the time off to be with friends and family, with plenty of food, drink, and other merriments to joyfully commence the year.
January 6th: Epiphany (Heilige Drei Kӧnige) (R)
A public holiday in the Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and Saxony-Anhalt regions, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season by celebrating the three wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus.
On the eve of this holiday, many people gather to drink to the good fortunes of family and friends. Beer is known as bockbier – strong tasting and of a higher percentage than regular beer – is specially brewed for this purpose.
On the day itself, some people choose to attend a special church service. The majority of workplaces are closed in the three states in which Epiphany is officially celebrated.
February 24th: Fasching (Fastnacht)
Fasching is the German rendition of the Mardi Gras carnival season. Though it officially begins on the 11th of November at 11:11 am, Fasching merriments are typically put on hold during the Christmas season and the New Year. On January 7th, following the Epiphany, Fasching celebrations begin in full earnest.
The weeks that follow January 7th entail a crazy period of wild celebration. Parties, parades, masquerade balls, and other merrymaking events fill the streets and venues with copious drinking and general merriment. The Fasching period culminates in a large celebration on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday (24th February in 2020).
Since it comes just before the lent period, Fasching is also treated as a time to indulge in large amounts of sweet and fatty treats. Doughnuts and cookies are part of the mouth-watering collection of sugary, yeasty snacks for which Fasching is famous.
April 10th: Good Friday (Karfreitag) (N)
On Good Friday, Germans join the wider Christian population in commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Some will attend special church services, during which hymns are sung and prayers are observed. In the open air, many areas are host to religious processions or plays telling the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
For many Germans, Good Friday marks the start of a long weekend that includes Easter Monday. Schools and most workplaces are closed, so it’s a good time to take a short vacation, whether in Germany or a neighboring country.
In some states, where Good Friday is considered a silent day (stiller Tag), restrictions regarding alcohol, public performances, and music may apply.
April 13th: Easter Monday (Ostermontag) (N)
Following Easter Sunday, Easter Monday is a public holiday that continues the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s common in many parts of Germany for people to join in an early morning candle-lit parade, ending with a church service. Even those who don’t join the parades are inclined to journey into the countryside for a refreshing spring walk.
Another Easter Monday tradition widely observed in Germany is that of egg races. Typically in the form of an egg and spoon race, these events provide great entertainment for children and adults alike.
Schools and most workplaces are closed on Easter Monday, so it’s a great time to be with friends and family.
May 1st: Labor Day (Maifeiertag) (N)
Labor day, or International Workers’ Day, is a public holiday that combines the celebration of German workers with the traditional practices of May Day.
The night between April 30th and May 1st is known as the Witches Night (Hexennacht), during which many Germans light bonfires and spend much of the night outside. This, along with other traditional May Day activities, are intended to chase away evil spirits and welcome the coming of Spring.
However, the more official reason for May 1st being a public holiday in Germany is the commemoration of the achievements of the labor movement. Schools and businesses close nationwide as people celebrate the societal contributions of German workers. Berlin, in particular, is home to many politically charged celebrations.
May 10th: Mother’s Day (Muttertag)
Each year, the second Sunday of May is marked by a day of appreciation for mothers and mother figures. Though it isn’t considered a public holiday, Mother’s Day is an annual event observed by the majority of Germans.
During the second world war, mothers would receive special medals from the German Reich on Mother’s Day, in appreciation of their roles in motherhood. However, this practice was displaced with the defeat of the Nazis. Nowadays, mothers receive appreciation through the simple offerings of gifts, flowers, and cards from their children – and perhaps a weekend visit.
May 21st: Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) (N)
The 40th day of Easter (39 days after Easter Sunday) marks the national public holiday known as Ascension Day. It is also referred to as Father’s Day or Men’s Day in certain parts of Germany.
Christians will attend a special church service to celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. Christian or not, it’s considered an opportunity for groups of male friends and relatives to spend the day together. They may engage in an outdoor activity such as a walk or a horse-and-cart ride, ending the day with a communal meal and, of course, lots of drinking.
June 1st: Whit Monday (Pfingstmontag) (N)
Whit Monday, or the Second Day of Pentecost, marks the end of the Easter cycle, landing 50 days after Easter Sunday. It is a national holiday which commemorates the biblical descent of the Holy Ghost onto Jesus Christ’s disciples.
With the nationwide closing of schools and businesses for the day, Germans are free to celebrate Whit Monday in various ways. Regional customs involve unique rituals and services, some of which last throughout the week.
June 11th: Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam) (R)
Corpus Christi is a regional holiday in eight German states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Hesse, and some regions of Saxony and Thuringia). It is a Catholic festival that honors the Eucharist (or Holy Communion, Last Supper).
Corpus Christi refers to the body of Christ, and the church services of this holiday thus pay special attention to the sacrament’s blessing. The sacrament consists of bread and wafers, which are symbolic of Jesus’ body. In some areas, the blessed sacrament is paraded through the streets following the service, resulting in vibrant public festivities.
In Cologne, the banks of the River Rhine play host to a procession of ships known as the Muelheimer Gottestracht. This has been a part of the Corpus Christi celebrations every year since 1435.
Schools and most businesses are closed in the states that officially celebrate Corpus Christi. Aside from religious services, this holiday offers a great opportunity to enjoy a feast with friends and family.
August 8th: Peace Festival (R)
Every year, on the 8th of August, the Bavarian city of Augsburg is home to the Peace Festival. Augsburg is the only German city to have its public holiday, and the closure of schools and business is limited to Augsburg alone.
The Augsburg Peace Festival celebrates the historic restoration of Protestant’s religious freedom, granted by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The first year of the Peace Festival was 1650, and it has been held every year since.
A special church service is held for members of all Christian denominations. Additionally, there is a festive market and an annual art competition for children.
Though Augsburg is the only city that will enjoy a day off, there is no reason why other regions of Germany can’t also revel in peace-related festivities.
August 15th: Assumption Day (Maria Himmelfahrt) (R)
Celebrated in Saarland and some parts of Bavaria, this regional holiday marks the assumption of Mary’s body and soul into heaven.
On Assumption Day, church bells ring to announce the start of special Catholic services. Two churches close to one another may ring the bells in unison. As well as the services, many people engage in the tradition of collecting herbs in the local fields and meadows. Clover, tansy, and tyne are among the foraged herbs, symbolizing the themes of life and growth associated with Mary.
Religious parades and summer festivals may also be held throughout Germany on August 15th. However, the closure of schools and businesses is limited to the Saarland and Catholic areas of Bavaria.
September 19th: Oktoberfest begins
Held annually in the Bavarian city of Munich, Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival. It runs for 16 to 18 days, with over six million people from around the world attending each year. It typically sees the consumption of around seven million liters of beer.
Munich has held the Oktoberfest every year since 1810. Despite it being a unique staple of Bavarian culture, the Oktoberfest has been replicated throughout the world. Though you can technically wear lederhosen and drink copious amounts of beer almost anywhere in the world, the only place to get the true Oktoberfest experience is Munich.
Aside from drinking, there are lots to be enjoyed during this festival. From traditional music performances to fairground rides, there’s something for everyone at Oktoberfest. It’s a great time to enjoy the joy and merriments of life with friends and family.
October 3rd: German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) (N)
German Unity Day marks the union of the Federal Government of Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany, creating a single, federal Germany.
The Berlin wall fell on November 9th, 1989 – a symbolic event that led to Germany’s official unification on October 3rd, 1990. The occasion has been celebrated as a national holiday ever since and is observed throughout the whole of Germany.
The primary celebrations are held around the Platz der Republik at the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. There are concerts, speeches, food and drink stalls, comedians, artists, and various other forms of entertainment to propel the celebrations. It’s a welcoming and festive atmosphere that reinforces the power of unity and togetherness.
German Unity Day falls on a Saturday this year, so most will be off work anyway. The majority of businesses that operate during weekends will likely be closed to accommodate this special holiday.
October 31st: Reformation Day (Reformationstag) (R)
Reformation Day is a regional public holiday that is now celebrated in nine states (Brandenburg, Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt, Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein).
It commemorates a time of significant religious and social change in 1517, when German monk Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg All Saints’ Church. This single act triggered the start of the Reformation, leading to the Christian landscape of denominations that we see today.
History tells us that this happened on the 31st of October and so schools and most businesses close on this day to allow Germans to celebrate the Reformation. Special church services are held, and the color red is actively used to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Adding to festivities is the traditional consumption of cakes, loaves of bread, and sweet treats.
November 1st: All Saint’s Day (Allerheiligen) (R)
The German states of Bayern, Baden-Württemberg, Saarland, Rheinland-Pfalz, and Nordrhein-Westfalen enjoy a day off work and school in honor of both the saints and deceased relatives.
Though All Saints’ Day is predominantly a Catholic holiday, Protestants and Catholics alike may attend special church services honoring the ‘faithful departed’. Candles are lit, and prayers are observed in memory of deceased relatives. It is also a day to visit graves, which are commonly decorated with flowers and candles.
November 18th: Repentance Day (Buß- und Bettag) (R)
The Day of Prayer and Repentance was once a public holiday for the whole of Germany. Between 1990 and 1994, every German state claimed a day off work and school in the name of Repentance.
In 1994, the holiday was exchanged for health insurance improvements in every state except one. Saxony, which had unique health insurance arrangements, is now the only state to officially observe Repentance Day.
Each year, Repentance day is celebrated on the last Wednesday before November 23rd. It is a day for Protestants to engage in quiet prayer, reflection, and thought, through which they can reconnect with God. For others, it is simply an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.
Also, note that some schools in Bavaria may close on Repentance Day.
December 25th: Christmas Day (Weihnachtstag) (N)
There are few better countries in which to spend Christmas than Germany. Though the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the official public holiday falls on the 25th, the joy of Christmas can be experienced throughout the month of December.
Germany is famous for its Christmas markets. Festive gatherings of delicious food, hand-crafted decorations, and community spirit, the markets offer an unrivaled experience of Christmas delight.
December 25th is called Erste Feiertag – the ‘first celebration’. It’s a day to be spent with family members or close friends, with the traditional enjoyment of a large meal. Many Germans also attend church services and sing Christmas carols.
Germany also celebrates Christmas with the typical trimmings of a western Christmas, including Christmas trees, nutcrackers, and gingerbread houses.
December 26th: St. Stephen’s Day (Stephanstag) (N)
Zweite Feiertag, the ‘second celebration’, is also a national public holiday. Following on from Christmas day, it continues the opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family.
Boxing day is generally considered to be quite relaxing. Whether it’s watching television, playing board games, or going for a stroll in the countryside, Germans treat Boxing Day as a time to recover from the Christmas celebrations.
Seasonal treats continue to be enjoyed on Boxing day, and most households will prepare a large communal meal. This may consist of either the remains from the Christmas Day meal or a selection of meats and cheeses which can be grilled at the table.
The German calendar is full of celebration. Though the majority of the holidays are religious in nature, you don’t have to be part of the church to make the most out of them.
Pretty much all significant German dates provide an opportunity to spend quality time with those who are most dear to you.